November 18, 2004

Il Nostro Coltivatore Va in Italia

Grower Goes to Italy - An Interview with Stan Devoto

In the Spring, CUESA nominated Stan Devoto of Devoto Gardens and Lee James of Tierra Vegetables to attend Slow Food’s Terra Madre Meeting in Turin, Italy from October 20 - 23. Both farms grow unique varieties of fruits and vegetables and represent the type of small-scale, diverse farming that Slow Food celebrates. Following is an interview with Stan Devoto about his trip.


Devoto observes the products of his Italian counterparts

What were the major themes of Terra Madre?
The conference was about honoring those that farm throughout the world and the importance of sustaining regionalism and heritage. It was about preserving rare varieties and small farmers and about taking time in one’s life to savor both food and family. I felt honored to be there – Slow Food went out of their way to make us feel appreciated.

Where did you stay?
Everyone who attended the conference (some 5000 of us) was housed outside of Turin, in one of the small agricultural towns which surround the city. I stayed in Vinovo with an Italian family, made up of the parents, two grown sons and the grandma. They live on a century-old walled farm which is now surrounded by apartments. I roomed in their agritourismo apartment with a row-crop farmer from Paso Robles and Nova Scotia apple farmers. We were fed breakfasts of cheeses, cold cuts, yogurt and pastries, amazing Italian dinners, 30 year old red wine and homemade risotto. The family was incredibly warm, welcoming, and close. Each morning we were driven to meet our bus and other conference delegates and then bussed 30 minutes or so to the conference. Other delegates stayed as far as two hours away.

What components of the meeting were most valuable to you?
Surprisingly, the seminars about sustainable viticulture were some of the most interesting and informative. California (especially the Napa area) was very well-represented and the presentations given by Californians showed how cutting-edge our farming and processes are. Italians and others are a bit more skeptical of organic grape production. Seminars about erosion and marketing were also great - it was amazing to meet farmers from all over the world facing the same problems and trying to answer the same questions.

Did you visit other places in Italy?
After the conference we visited my family in Borzonasca, a small town in Liguria known for their chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. These local wild products actually sustained the population during the Nazi occupation of WWII. My father’s cousins still live the house where my great grandfather was born. It sits along a small river where my family processed grain and became and still are the village bakers. When we entered town the windows flew open and we were closely observed as all are interested in the relatives from America. Each of our meals was a piece of art and we were also able to hike the hills on the coast around Camogli and the Cinque Terre. We also spent time in Florence and Parma.

Did you go to any Italian farmers markets?
Yes! We visited farmers markets in almost every town we went to – more than ten in all. I was impressed with the quality and flavor of their greens and their merchandising efforts but felt that their stored fruit left much to be desired. Their fresh clementinas were incredible, as were their olive and mushroom displays. Varieties and quality of these items far surpassed what is available in California.

Did the trip give you any new perspectives about farming?
The Terra Madre conference was aptly named after Mother Earth. My participation encouraged me to realize how my farm is but a small part of a great and diverse earth. There are many similarities among growers but also great differences. Northern California is extremely lucky with its mild climate and fertile ground, but we still must work hard to maintain our sustainability.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »